Sunday, May 18, 2008

Jonathan Run

After a great day of boating yesterday, I (Jason Hilton) had resigned myself to graduate work and tending the potpourri on Sunday, so hadn't even bothered to set the alarm for the day. A few friends called to check on creeks north of Pittsburgh, but nothing was running, gas costs too much, and the bed seemed extra comfortable. However, one of the most low-key paddlers I regularly paddle with, Zach Frederick was continually calling and messaging my phone. Something must be up, right? After finally answering the phone, Zach informed me that his yard, close to Ohiopyle, had turned into a small pond overnight, and that anything we ever wanted to do was ripe for the picking. Quick pack of the gear, boat on car, potpourri left un-tended yet again.

On the way to get Zach, Shawn Yuengling rang in looking for some adventure, bringing the group to three, a perfect squad for some exploratory creek boating. The target for the day was Jonathan Run, an obscure micro-creek in the Yough watershed. Zach had previously scouted the run dry, and all of us spoke to more experienced boaters from our region to get beta on this very-rarely run steep.

Unloading of the boats

Arriving at Jonathan, we were greeted with a perfect low level, the kind that floats you through every rapid with plenty of time to pull over and scout the next blind drop. The first 3/4 mile of the run was the standard class II entry you find on most of the creeks that enter the Yough, complete with wood around each corner to duck, limbo, or carry.

Shawn negotiating a hazard

Once the creek took off down hill, our pace slowed, our eyes opened up wide, and we reaped the kind of rewards only creeking can give. The first major drop, we affectionately named Puke, as the left side of the bottom of the drop bore a striking resemblance to Puke on the Upper Blackwater. The rapid began with a marginal line off of a ten foot waterfall, a quick boat thrust over a log, and then a boof off of the Puke part of the drop, on river right. First rapid down, portage some logs, next drop to run.

Shawn, bottom drop of Puke

Zach, bottom drop of Puke

The next major drop included a slide down a rock to avoid a tree, then riding a narrow current next to a small undercut, duck some trees, then on down a shallow slide for about 100 feet. If it sounds as though there is a lot of wood on this run, there was. It strikes me that this is one of the runs that is run so rarely, people are unlikely to go in and clean out these drops, so you make do with what you have.

More wood

The third major drop was the one we had been on the lookout for. It begins with a shallow boof off a five foot falls, down a slide into an undercut notch in the rocks complete with hole and cross current water maybe three feet wide, and then quickly off of a twenty footer into a shallow pool, with a run to the right appearing catastrophic. The drop appeared to be runnable, but the possibilities in the notch, and the likelihood of a river right descent of the final falls (and the resulting medivac) put us all on the path of portage.

Zach in the Steeps

Just after the falls, we gained a nice series of steep boulder gardens, some more logs to portage, and ultimately a tunnel. The tunnel appeared to just have a wave train going down the center, so I quickly setup to take photos of my partners cruising on through. Shawn was the first to run the tunnel, and I noticed about 3/4 of the way through he took a sudden drop and punched through something of size, alerting me of a hidden hole within the confines of the man-made passage. As Zach went through, I alerted him of the hole to which he responded "awesome" and off he charged. On my run through, I took great care to keep up some forward speed in order to come through the hole clean on the other side.

Shawn @ Tunnel

Zach @ Tunnel

At this point we dropped a small rapid and were thrust into 9000 cfs of Lower Yough fun. A few miles went by very quickly, we spotted our takeout, and congratulated each other on a fantastic run.